Border Collie Temperament: The Workaholic of all breeds
Are you ready to learn more about the most trainable breed and find out if this dog breed is the right choice for you? Then you've come to the right Border Collie temperament blog post.
Border Collies are intelligent dogs with unyielding energy levels. Their penetrating expressions and attentive demeanour make for an active and highly trainable dog and a handful for a novice dog owner.
Whether you're a novice dog owner or have owned dogs before, it's always good to learn more about the temperament of the dog you'd like to bring into your home. Border Collies are real eye-catchers with stunning coats and bright eyes. Whilst some dogs love to sleep and relax, this dog's favourite passing time is training for obedience and agility competitions or solving complex mind-boggling tasks.
In the following blog, we will look at the Border Collies' impressive history as herding dogs, their temperament and whether this dog is everything you wished for in a good family dog. So, without delay, let's explore this bundle of energy in more detail.
Border Collie History
The Border Collies' history starts in Northumberland on the borders between Scotland and England. The Scots had herding and sheepdogs for centuries before establishing this dog breed. It is estimated that the first herding dogs who worked alongside farmers were around the first century BC.
The word Collie originates from the Celtic term "useful". On the other hand, the Scottish Highlands are home to the Colley Sheep, which has characteristic black markings. These could refer to the black markings on the Border Collie as well.
When the Romans invaded the British Isles, they brought dogs which could control and move livestock. These roman breeds paved the way for many dog breeds. When the Vikings invaded England, they brought over Spitz-type dogs. This opened the way for the breeding of other dog breeds. One of them showed special excelling abilities in herding and athleticism.
In 1893, one dog paved the way for the first Border Collies: Old Hemp was born.
Appearances were not the central aspect when breeding dogs back then. Instead, having the right abilities to carry out work in the field was crucial. And this is where Old Hemp comes into play.
Old Hemp's ability and instincts for herding livestock were so outstanding that he quickly became the top working dog on the farm. However, the most staggering discovery was that Old Hemp didn't rely on his bark to usher livestock, unlike other sheepdogs. He instead used body positions and eyes and anticipated the sheep's movements while adapting to them.
Old Hemp's outstanding abilities quickly made the round, and his owner, Adam Telfer, let him be the sire to many other puppies. As a result, old Hemp's descendants could bag many farmers' championships and prices for their natural herding instincts in the following years. Many Border Collies of today can be traced back to Old Hemp's lineage.
The International Sheep Dog Society, founded in 1906, wished to distinguish between all the different Collie breeds: Smooth Collie, Rough Collie, and Scotch Collie were typical references to Collies in the 1800s. However, the first reference to the Border Collie can be found in 1915.
Wiston Cap, a tri-colour Collie born in 1963, was another vital sire for the Border Collie breed. Unfortunately, because Border Collies were mainly bred for their natural instincts and herding abilities, health issues were often considered second. This is where some hereditary diseases were introduced into these dogs, which will be mentioned below.
But some sires contributed to the breed with their kind nature. These traits are also embedded into the Border Collie, unlike the first Collies, who were a little averse to strangers.
Their kind nature is why Border Collies are increasingly considered excellent family dogs.
The UK Kennel Club recognised the Border Collie in 1976. However, the American Kennel Club only followed in 1995.
Border Collie registrations in the UK 2023
In Q2 2022, 550 Border Collies were registered with the UK Kennel Club, which matches the average amount registered in prior years. It shows the ongoing love story of the people in England and this beautiful dog breed. In 2022, 2,051 Border Collies were registered, 22% more than in 2021.
Source: UK Kennel Club https://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/media/3931/quarterly-breed-stats-pastoral.pdf updated March 2023
Now that we have a rough idea about their breeding history, let's dive into how your life with a Border Collie might look.
What is a Border Collie's Temperament like?
It's certainly never dull! The Border Collie is a working dog supreme with a drive to work like no other dog. Their working ethics are solid and come instinctively. Hence, even today, Border Collies are superior in sheepherding.
The Border Collies' energy level should not be underestimated. They're one of the most complex dog breeds that you can encounter. One hour around the block won't cut it for this breed.
Border Collies are given away mainly because the average family can't meet their exercise levels.
If you decide not to work your Border Collie and are looking for a family dog, remember that this dog needs hours of mental and physical stimulation. So please only get one of these dogs if you have time to dedicate to them. The Border Collie is one of the most active dog breeds and is almost considered to have a different level of energy.
If you enjoy canine sports like agility, flyball and obedience training, the Border Collie is a perfect choice.
Overall, if you're an active person who goes hiking, climbing and biking regularly, the Border Collie is your ideal companion dog. They will never let you down. But, unfortunately, you're more likely to struggle to keep up with this medium-sized dog.
Centuries of herding made the Border Collie a confident dog who can make its own decisions if necessary. However, they have an independent streak if their human isn't providing guidance.
Training can become arduous if the Border Collie lacks clear direction. Don't be fooled by their cute looks: The Border Collie is a true mastermind, and they're strong-willed. They require consistent, calm and strong leadership. This dog will sense uneasiness and timidness rather quickly, and you won't do them or yourself a service by choosing them as your dog.
A bored Border Collie is very often a recipe for disaster. They can become nervous and destructive if they have nothing to do.
Rather than asking yourself if this dog is for you, you should ask yourself if you're the right person for this dog. If you don't give them a job, they will take it upon themselves to find a job: That might not be what you had in mind!
The Border Collie will require your guidance, presence and perseverance. They're not easy dogs to handle, and we wouldn't recommend them for novice dog owners who aren't home all the time. Without firm guidance and leadership, this dog will try to outsmart you at every corner. They will very likely succeed and can quickly become mentally tiring for you.
However, if you provide guidance and consistent leadership, this dog will be a joy to train. They learn incredibly quickly, are goal-orientated, and are the most intelligent dog breed. The Border Collie is undoubtedly here to solve your problems with you. The partnership between you and your Border Collie is incredibly unique. Not many dogs form such a close relationship with their owner on such a high level.
Border Collies can tend herd. If you don't own sheep, their instinct can take over, and they can start herding children, bikes, cars or other pets. This includes staring the herding object down, chasing or even nipping. You must learn to re-direct this behaviour as early as possible and direct this instinct into other tasks like agility and obedience.
The Border Collie stare can be pretty unnerving if you're not used to it. But it's an unbelievably important part of their herding routine. In fact, the Border Collie is one of two breeds that use their stare or eyes to move livestock around. The other breed is a Kelpie, a descendant of the Border Collie.
Unresponsiveness to the stare can lead to nipping.
The Border Collie, in general, is not the best choice for tiny children. We recommend that children from age ten onwards be paired with this dog. They won't suffer fools gladly, although they're not known for being aggressive.
The Border Collie can be a bit wary of strangers. However, early socialisation can ease their uneasiness, and they will follow your suit quickly if they trust you. Their temperament is, in general friendly, people-orientated and openhearted.
The Border Collie has a double coat that requires regular grooming. Although their coat can come in different structures, like smooth and rough, all coats need a grooming regimen.
4 times a week should be something you should aim for. On the other hand, if you're very houseproud, another breed might be a better choice for you.
If you feel you have the time, dedication and perseverance to care for a Border Collie, you are in for a special and unique relationship. This dog will listen to your every word, always ready for adventures and new tasks. Due to the close bond the Border Collie forms with their owner, they will feel when you're upset or when you're excited. That dog doesn't only have brains. They're susceptible to your feelings, body language and facial expressions. But, due to working so closely with humans, their empathy towards their owners is second to none.
Border Collies are Velcro dogs and the happiest with you by their side. They will keep you on your toes and surprise you daily with their speed and positive life outlook.
Let's now have a look at some common Border Collie questions.
Why are Border Collies so smart?
As discussed in their history, Border Collies were selectively bred for their brains and instincts rather than appearances. This dog was seen as a classic farm dog and had to have the ability to perform as such. Especially working lineages are not bred for looks. Their brain, stamina and herding instinct are their most important asset, making them exceptional in their jobs.
But these dogs also possess a great deal of emotional intelligence, able to read humans very well. They're smart due to selective breeding and eager to solve problems and please their owner.
Border Collie vs Australian Shepherd
Although both breeds are similar in looks and can be easily confused as puppies, there are some significant differences. Border Collies originated in Northumbria, on the Border of Scotland and England. The Australian Shepherd is an American breed, although their ancestors lived presumably in Spain.
However, both species were bred for the same purpose, so their temperament can be pretty similar: Intelligent, affectionate, and highly energetic.
The Border Collie is also the "Einstein" of the dog breeds, continuously winning obedience and agility competitions. Although the Aussie Shepherd possesses an over-average intelligence, it's not matching a Border Collie.
Significant differences are observed in the coat structure. The Border Collie comes in rough and smooth coat varieties, while the outer coat can be wavy or straight. The Aussie Shepherd can have moderate featherings but will have a less harsh and less dense coat than the Border Collie.
The ears are also less erect on the Aussie Shepherd than on the Border Collie. Some owners claim that the Border Collie is more aloof with strangers. In the end, dogs, however, are individuals.
Can Border Collies be left alone?
That depends. Leaving Border Collie puppies alone for a short period can be beneficial!
They can learn to build confidence and understand that you will always come back. The Border Collie is a typical Velcro dog. They love sticking to you. Leaving them for 1-2 hours a day can be good, so they can learn to be alone. We don't recommend leaving your Border Collie alone longer, and not all of a sudden. Gradually increase the time you're away.
They do certainly need human interactions and a job to do. Unfortunately, a bored Border Collie will find a job for themselves relatively quickly, and we can't promise it won't be your skirting board. This dog is the wrong choice if you're away from home regularly for longer than 3 hours.
Border Collie Temperament in a nutshell
People-orientated, loyal and loving
Early socialisation is crucial when owning a Border Collie
Requires an owner who is at least open to learning about obedience and agility competitions
Not great on their own
High energy and require plus 3 hrs exercise a day, mentally and physically
Potential health issues in the Border Collie breed
The Border Collie can live to a ripe age. Their average lifespan is about 14-16 years. Bramble was the oldest Border Collie to live in the UK: She had 25 years on this beautiful earth.
Border Collies are considered a healthy breed. However, there are certain health conditions that a prospective owner should be aware of. Budgeting for potential vet bills and the time required to care for your Border Collie if they develop a particular condition is a good idea.
That said, not all Border Collies will experience the below hereditary diseases. It's essential to be aware of them to spot problems early on so you can follow up with immediate treatment.
The below list does not replace a vet visit. In general, always look for a vet, if your dog displays any symptoms and internet research doesn't replace a vet visit.
Hip Dysplasia/Elbow Dysplasia: This is an inherited skeletal condition but can be exacerbated by fast growth and obesity and can end in painful arthritis.
Collie Eye Anomaly: Due to this anomaly, less oxygen is supplied to the retina, and this can lead to blindness
Osteochondritis Dissecans: another painful joint condition
Progressive Retinal Atrophy: Prevalent eye disease in Border Collies. This can lead to clouding and blindness
Epilepsy: Can be inherited but also appear for other reasons
MDR1-related drug sensitivity: Carriers of the gene can react allergically to certain drugs. A DNA test can quickly establish if your Border Collie is a carrier. Herding dogs often are.
Border Collie fun fact
The brain of the Border Collie is unmatched. One Border Collie, from the Book 'the Intelligence of dogs', could identify 1022 different toys. She belonged to John Pilley. Chaser learnt the names of 1022 toys, and the reason she didn't learn more was only due to the fact her owners had time constraints on teaching her more.
Chaser was also able to categorise the items according to function and shape, demonstrating the brain activity level of a 3-year-old human child.
Another clever Border Collie was Rico. He could understand 200 words. The exciting thing was that he could remember them even after not being exposed to them for about 1 month, which shows their sharp memories.
Owners' voices about their Border Collie
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Conclusion: Is the Border Collie a wonderful dog to own?
After reading our blog about the temperament of the Border Collie, you're probably a fan of this medium-sized energy bundle. If you're an active person or family that enjoys hiking and sports, this dog might be precisely what you're looking for to complete your family.
Additional activities like obedience and agility competitions should be on the weekend schedule to make your Border Collie grow into a well-rounded canine companion.
However, be realistic and honest about how much time this dog needs for physical and mental stimulation. The biggest reason Border Collies are abandoned their overwhelming energy level.
If you work long hours and prefer a Netflix day in front of the couch on the weekend, this dog is unsuitable for you.
Although small, Apartment living can also be problematic for the Border Collie. Due to their high energy, a spacious garden is a must. So, before you decide that the Border Collie is your dog of choice, be sure you can cope with their need for constant physical and mental stimulation.
Border Collie Summary Breed Info box
15kg - 19kg
Tendency to drool
Tendency to bark
Tendency to dig